Long before Russia's Duma election on December 7th, one could predict the outcome: victory for the Edinstvo (Unity) party, President Vladimir Putin's main parliamentary ally. What was not predicted was the size of the victory for this so-called "party of power," or the exceedingly poor showing by the Communist Party (KPRF).
In 1999, Unity's main rival was the Fatherland /All Russia bloc (OVR), led by ex-premier Yevgeny Primakov and Moscow Mayor Yuri Luzhkov, who at the time were very popular figures. But the government-controlled media subsequently launched fierce attacks against them, targeting Primakov especially, since he was considered a serious rival to Putin and a legitimate presidential contender.
Since then, the situation changed markedly. The OVR first became an ally of the Unity party, and then merged with it into what became known as United Russia, helping it become this year's clear front-runner. So the government-controlled media took aim at another antagonist, the Communist Party, which apparently never expect an attack on this scale.
Disoriented and bewildered, the party withered under the pressure of the media assault, which was mostly carried out on state-run TV channels. The election result showed that the government's strategy paid off handsomely. Indeed, the Communist vote collapsed to a mere 12.7%, down from 24% in 1999.